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In an unscripted and ignominious end for all parties involved, a long-running, rape-focused criminal prosecution in Southern California was settled with a plea deal on relatively minor gun and drug charges.
On Wednesday, in an Orange County courtroom, Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 43, accepted legal culpability on one felony count of possession of an assault weapon, a Bushmaster rifle, and one misdemeanor count of possession of a controlled substance, psilocybin — the psychedelic substance found in several species of so-called “magic” mushrooms.
The charges against the infamous and now-former Newport Beach-based hand surgeon are a distant whimper from the original — highly scandalous, violent, and salacious — allegations filed in the case. And the defendant will likely never serve a day in prison.
The state, defense, and court agreed that Robicheaux should be sentenced to three years of probation under the terms of the plea deal — along with drug education classes and community service. After a while, the felony charge can be reduced to a misdemeanor and both charges will eventually be eligible for expungement.
Robicheaux, and his girlfriend, former schoolteacher Cerissa Laura Riley, 36, were originally charged in 2018 with sexually assaulting five women on separate occasions beginning in 2016. Tabloids and national media seized on the allegations from the start — the doctor was named Orange County’s most eligible bachelor by Orange Coast Magazine in 2013 and appeared in the short-lived Bravo reality show “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male” in 2014.
“There are a substantial number of videos,” then-Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said when charges against the couple were originally filed. “I cannot tell you if it is tens or hundreds, it is certainly more than tens. It appears [the women] are highly intoxicated beyond the ability to consent or resist. They are barely responsive to the defendants’ sexual advances.”
As Rackauckas, a Republican who held the office for two decades, faced reelection, however, something strange happened. His opponent and onetime protégé, current Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, also a Republican, used the Robicheaux-Riley prosecution as a wedge issue and part of a broader campaign to allege a general atmosphere of corruption in the office. In November 2018, Spitzer unseated his old boss by over 31,000 votes.
“The prior District Attorney and his chief of staff manufactured this case and repeatedly misstated the evidence to lead the public and vulnerable women to believe that these two individuals plied up to 1,000 women with drugs and alcohol in order to sexually assault them — and videotape the assaults,” Spitzer said at a press conference.
But, when Spitzer moved to formally dismiss the case against Robicheaux and Riley in 2020, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones refused. Instead, Jones cast doubt on the office’s ability to see past the bitter internecine feud between the two prosecutors — a long-running political battle that began around 2010 when Spitzer was fired by Rackauckas for alleged misconduct.
During the 2018 campaign, Spitzer said Rackauckas waited to file the case in late September — just before the election. Rackauackas later admitted in a June 19, 2019 deposition to using the Robicheaux-Riley prosecution to get media attention to benefit his campaign.
“The public has heard from the politicians,” Jones wrote in an opinion. “The public has never heard from the alleged victims. Any objective analysis of this case leads to the conclusion that these charges should be put before a jury. A backroom dismissal by prosecutors without the alleged victims ever having the opportunity to be heard is contrary to the core values of our legal process and the interests of the public.”
Jones then removed the case from the jurisdiction of the Orange County District Attorney’s office — handing the reins to the California Attorney General’s Office. Over the years, the allegations became murkier — the charges were consistently pared down.
Starting with allegations that the pair preyed on at least seven women, prosecutors would go on to claim 13 women in total came forward — but the state only ever filed charges associated with the first seven women. Eventually, prosecutors moved to dismiss two accusers as victims. That request was granted by one judge in July 2021. Then, prosecutors moved to dismiss three other accusers as victims. That request was granted by another judge in August 2021.
In July, Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Leversen was the final judge to oversee any allegations of sexual misconduct. This time, the state tried to maintain the allegations, grasping at the shreds of a once-sprawling case. Leversen threw the charges out — leaving the couple to face multiple drug-related, unlawful firearms possession, and poisoning-related charges.
In October, Leversen also dismissed charges that the couple sold phencyclidine, or PCP, as well as charges that they poisoned an Israeli Jane Doe’s water bottle with PCP, according to the Los Angeles Times. She is currently overseas due to the international situation.
The Doe’s victim impact statement was not read aloud — under threat of a defamation lawsuit — but was filed under seal in the case.
“It’s frustrating, because I feel my client has been effectively silenced,” the anonymous woman’s attorney, Sharon Tekolian, said, according to a courtroom report by The Orange County Register.
With the poisoning charge dropped, Riley no longer faced any criminal charges in the case.
According to City News Service, a Southern California-based wire service, only three reporters were in the courtroom as the books closed on the former spectacle involving the once-feted doctor.
Robicheaux’s attorney, Philip Cohen, remarked on the complicated twists of fate and turning of worms in the overall controversy.
“It’s funny,” he said. “The last time I spoke as to this case it was at a press conference five-and-a-half years ago, it was filled with cameras and reporters, and here we are five-and-a-half years later and it’s just the three of you.”
Robicheaux is considering legal action against Orange County law enforcement, his attorney said, at some point in the future.
The former surgeon and Riley, now live in an RV with their 2-year-old child, the defense attorney said. He noted the two “lost everything” and that he finished out the case despite his client’s inability to pay.
“His professional life is done,” Cohen said in comments to the Times. “His reputation is forever done, and it’s sad to see what an allegation can do, regardless of what the ultimate outcome is.”